Sherman's Food Adventures: Kuan Zhai Road

Kuan Zhai Road

If you haven't noticed, Chinese Skewer restaurants are becoming more and more prevalent in a city that rarely had any just 5 years ago.  Something about meat on a stick has created an appetite that hasn't been satiated as of yet (as there are more and more opening up as of this post).  We all know the usual places such as the popular Happy Tree as well as Meat Up.  One spot that has relatively flown under the radar is Kuan Zhai Road tucked into a small strip mall just down the road from Happy Tree on Kingsway in Vancouver.  It isn't apparent what the place is called because the English name is in tiny font.

In addition to their grilled skewers, they have spicy hot pot options with "Help Yourself" Skewers in their refrigerated displays.  Priced at a reasonable 69 cents each, these one bite skewers are cooked in your choice of broth.  We had the extra spicy broth with chilis, chili oil, spices and Szechuan peppercorns.  This was super hot and kept my lips burning long after I had finished.  Totally tasty!  We ended up with a variety of skewers including duck tongue, tripe, tendon, fish and conch.  Things were texturally on point (including the normally too chewy tripe) and nicely spiced by the hot pot broth.  We actually returned a few weeks later and asked for super hot and it was actually very spicy!  

As for the BBQ Skewers, we got a selection including lamb, meatball, prawns, beef and chicken wing.   Compared to other skewers spots in town, I found the amount of meat to be a little more than average.  In terms of pricing, it is pretty competitive.  I thought the lamb skewers to be the best being tender and moist with a decent char on the outside.  Flavours were mildly spicy (you can get spicier) while the cumin really came through.  Naturally, the beef was a bit more robust with an appealing chewy meatiness.  Flavours were quite similar except for the meat of course.  Didn't really enjoy the meatballs as they were far too dense.  Shrimp were sweet with plenty of the usual shrimp aromatics but it was a bit overdone in my opinion.  Loved the honey chicken wings as they featured rendered skin and super juicy meat.

Just for kicks, I got the Lao Chengdu Hot and Sour Noodles as well as the Spicy Chicken.  The slippery noodles were mildly spicy with a bit of tang.  I really thought they could've amped the spice level way higher than it was.  Of course, we only needed to ask for it, so not a big deal really.  However, the amount of moisture was an issue as it made the dish wet.  As for the chicken, it was inherently seasoned enough.  Texturally, it was tender while nicely gelantized including the skin.  Once again, it wasn't as spicy as we would've liked (to be fair, we like it flaming hot).  Yet, as mentioned, we could've asked for it to be prepared spicier, such as the hot pot.  For those who like it milder, this would've been fine and pretty good.  If I had to compare with the nearby Happy Tree, I would say Kuan Zhai is pretty similar without the loud pop music.

The Good:
- Well-prepared skewers
- More low key than the nearby Happy Tree
- Better service than Happy Tree

The Bad:
- A smaller restaurant, so when it gets busy, not as many seats
- Parking is an issue

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